Can social media save our sanity?

You haven’t missed it: this Monday, January 16th, we’re in full swing on Blue Monday, the saddest day of the year. A concept invented by marketing agencies, but not based on any scientific basis, nevertheless allows to address topics related to mental health, including depression. Anxiety, low self-esteem, depression… Feelings that are not alien, especially in the age of social networks. Numerous studies have shown for several years that these negative feelings are associated with social networks, especially among young people.

Instagram and Facebook, which admit to affecting the self-esteem of young teenage girls, Tik Tok, which can promote anorexia or self-harming content, Twitter and its violent responses… Social networks are increasingly accused of corrupting the minds of their users. . In the US, Seattle public school officials even filed a complaint against platforms like Facebook or Tik Tok in 2022, accusing them of “attacks” on the mental health of the youngest. But should we be so excited?

For Aude Caria, director of mental health info at Psycom, a national organization that provides information on mental health, “social networks have a paradoxical effect, meaning that they are both good and bad at the same time.” The question, he says, is not to demonize the networks: “They can expose us to content that makes us feel good or not. For example, if it leads to comparing oneself to unattainable beauty standards, it affects self-esteem. But networks can also give us the impression of being part of a community where we can share, which allows us to get information, educate ourselves, and find moral and social support,” he adds. In short, if networks are not necessarily evil, they are replaced by other activities that can cause problems.

Between cyberbullying and misinformation, searching online isn’t easy

In March 2020, when we are all limited, our screen time and our use of Instagram, WhatsApp or Twitter increased: According to the Social Life 2020 Harris Interactive study, 40% of French Internet users have created an account on a social network or instant messaging during confinement program. “The fact of being on multiple platforms at the same time has also increased,” says Aude Caria. So we will have more exposure to different content through different platforms, which will take us more time. “This time is not used to do anything else that could be good for us: physical activity, contact with nature, meeting friends or having fun,” adds the Psycom director.

Another key issue when we talk about the relationship between mental health and social networks is cyberbullying. Last November, a survey by e-Enfance found that 60% of 18-25-year-olds have already been victims of cyberbullying: virtual bullying with very real consequences. Victims of cyberbullying, mostly women and minorities, suffer from sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, and hopelessness, which can lead to suicide.

Mental health issues are increasingly discussed in the public and media space, including on networks. “This is part of the public debate. Even on a professional network like LinkedIn, there are quite a few statements about burnout, which is interesting given the taboo this topic can represent. This is a sign that the voice is liberating itself with the generational effect,” emphasizes Aude Caria. However, it warns of certain misinformation available on the internet that could lead to “commercial abuses” or scientifically unproven practices.

Do you need to do a digital detox to be happy?

When you’re faced with a deluge of negative and blaming information, blast notifications and sleazy models on Instagram, do you really need to cut it all out to find peace? For Aude Caria, first of all, you need to listen to her emotions. “Do we generally experience pain in life? Are we sadder, more anxious than usual, sleeping less, tending to use more substances… Any changes in our behavior or what we might say to our loved ones should be considered,” she says. If digital detox, smartphone-free, trending, trying to cut yourself off the grid these weeks may reveal or mark your level of addiction or abuse. “Individually, you can reduce your screen time, remove notifications, program a limited time for each app…” adds Aude Caria. It can also undergo a major cleanup of the news feed and prioritize content that makes us feel good!

But despite all this, our relationship with social networks is a social, economic and political issue. “It is the responsibility of platforms and legislators to regulate their content. There is a real issue with the regulation of content producers as well as platforms,” insists the Psycom director. According to him, another important point: education about how digital technology works, identifying the risks of manipulation and developing critical thinking. While waiting for a real platform regulation policy, there are several resources that should be mobilized for users, adults (and parents) and young people: Psycom, the e-Enfance association or even numbers like Violences Femmes Info (3919) or 3018 against cyberbullying. If notifications or likes bother us, it’s better to turn everything off to protect yourself.

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